According to the U.S. Code, copyright protection applies to “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” This means that almost any writing, sound recording, film, or photograph will be protected by copyright if there is any creativity whatsoever in its creation.
Copyright protection exists as soon as a work is created, with no additional work necessary from the creator or owner. If the work has business importance, though, it is often a good idea to register the work with the Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress. Copyright registration is generally the quickest, least expensive, and easiest type of IP registration. Having a registered copyright gives the owner benefits such as being able to bring copyright infringers into court in any applicable federal jurisdiction in the US and increasing the types of damages the owner can collect from an infringer.
As with patents, the enforcement of copyrights is the responsibility of the owner. Thus, having a portfolio of copyrights isn’t all that valuable unless their owner is willing to sue others for infringement.
Unlike with patents, accused copyright infringers may have a defense of fair use, meaning that due to general social good that comes from specific types of use, use that would otherwise infringe is given a pass. Further, accused infringers may point to their independent creation of their works to show that they are not infringers. For patents, independent creation (that is, making something without knowing about the patent) doesn’t serve as a defense to infringement.
You should know that making a defense of fair use or proving independent creation can be very time-consuming and expensive processes, and thus if you are an accused infringer and you are going to rely on one of those defenses you should consult with a lawyer so that you can better understand the kind of work you might be facing.
For new creations, in the U.S. copyrights last for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the work is a work-for-hire, the copyright lasts for the shorter of: a) 95 years from the time of publishing or; b) 120 years from the time of creation.
This is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions about any of these topics, you should consult with a lawyer.